Do you pray? If you do, what do you pray for? I was raised on the simplistic idea that when we pray, God gives us what we want. “Anything you ask in my name,” Jesus told His disciples, “I will do.” I knew by the time I was 8 years old that this wasn’t true. And I wasn’t praying for a new bike at Christmas (I guess you have to pray to Santa for that); I was praying for peace in my home. That peace never came, and I had a decision to make. The choices were these: God doesn’t exist, I am not worthy of answered prayer, or God doesn’t work that way. I started to read the Bible around that time, and I found a lot of mixed messages and downright impossibilities in Scripture, so I began my journey of understanding the Bible as a guide (imperfect at best), but not a vehicle of absolutism and perfection. I found the Book of James (the antidote to much of Paul and some of the Gospels) who told his readers that “you don’t get because you ask with wrong motives.” I found Mary and Martha blaming Jesus for their brother Lazarus’s death; their prayers didn’t get answered. I chose door number 3.
This “put your money in the gumball and get candy” approach to God has always seemed to me to be a fool’s quest. I don’t know a single person who has gotten everything they have asked for from anyone, much less God. We explain it away by saying things like “sometimes the answer is no, or maybe, or later”. We convince ourselves that it is part of some kind of larger plan, and it will work out okay in the end. We tell ourselves a lot of things to make it through the night, but that doesn’t mean they are true. For me, I think we have sold ourselves a lie; we have turned faith in God into a transaction – a deal – where we tell God we will pay our dues (tithes, offerings, etc) and go to church and do our best to not hurt anyone, and then God will give us an easy life. It isn’t true, because I don’t think God works that way, no matter how often I read about it in the Bible or how many times I sing “God will take care of you.” The truth is that we all suffer loss and pain and tragedy in life. Whether you are a believer in Jesus or an Atheist doesn’t change any of that. Prayer doesn’t stop suffering, but it might help us through it. Telling ourselves that the death of Jesus conquered the sting of death doesn’t stop death from happening, but it might help us understand that there is something wonderful on the other side. Just like there are lots of wonderful things on this side.
I don’t pray for stuff – stuff is what I get when I have a job and make money. I don’t pray for healing – there might be miraculous healings, but I have seen as much loss as I have seen gains when people are ill. I don’t pray for God to magically intervene – I’m not so self-centered to believe that God is waiting for me to ask before doing something amazing. So, why do I pray and what do I pray for? I begin by saying thank you. Life, even in difficult times, is still a gift. I pray for strength and courage in my own life because I don’t want to let people down who need support; and standing up for others isn’t always easy. I pray for you, even if I don’t know you – prayer helps us get through the difficult times in life.
I don’t think God intervenes so that you get that beach house or win the lottery. I don’t think God gets involved so you can get an A on your test or score to win the game. I think God cares about our spirits; I think God wants each one of us to be whole and, maybe, a little holy. For some people, just getting up in the morning is a victory – I think God cares about that. Your hometown team? Nope. Your brand new car? Again, nope. The way we treat each other and ourselves? Always. Pray for what matters – and be thankful.
Prayer – We talk to You God because we love You, ourselves, and each other. That should be enough. Amen.
Today’s art is called “In Prayer” by Deborah Zemble.